We’re just about half way through March with only 9 days until the first day of spring which means we are long over due for a guest post. For this month’s feature I’ve snagged the expertise of blogger Katie Cleary, Founder of AutoimmuneMom.com. Katie recently vacationed in the lovely city of Miami. I thought her experience was worth sharing along with her practical tips on traveling gluten free. No matter how long you’ve gone without wheat there’s no shortage of advice on how to be bettered prepared for being gluten free on the go! Get into her feature below.
Gluten Free on the Go: Traveling In Miami by Katie Cleary, Founder, AutoimmuneMom.com
With the cold temperatures hitting Austin harder than usual in 2015, I decided to seek refuge with a friend for a few days in the humid and salty air of Miami to see if I could give my skin and eyes a break from extreme dryness, and soak up some sun and relaxation by the ocean.
Traveling always comes with a risk though, because I have almost never been completely successful in traveling gluten free without issues during and after a trip. The only trip where I was happily without digestive symptoms was Disney World, where a chef comes out from the kitchen to understand your allergies, walk you through the menu to point out safe items and take your order. DW also has kitchen amenities such as a separate fryer in their kitchen for gluten free. I have never felt so fantastic. It was AMAZING.
Miami came with some high-highs and low-lows. Word to the wise, overall – it’s not easy. After I came home and was not feeling so great, I went to the Gluten Free Expo and met a naturopath from Portland. We got to talking about traveling and eating gluten free and I asked her if she’d ever been to Miami . “Miami is horrible [for gluten free]”, she said. Based on my experience, I agree. I felt sick two of the three days I was there and I’m still not all the way back to normal digestion nearly two weeks after getting home.
So with all of that… here are my five tips for traveling in Miami and eating gluten free:
• Don’t miss Miami South Beach’s all gluten free restaurant. Oolite Restaurant and Bar is out of this world. Everything on the menu is gluten free, and many of the bar drinks are gluten free. Truly fantastic food (chef is a James Beard Foundation nominee), wonderful service and beautiful restaurant/bar. The website does not advertise the gluten free aspect, but I knew from my Find Me Gluten Free app. I cannot say enough good things. It was like heaven on earth. Every big city needs an Oolite. This was the high, high, high point of the trip.
• Be vigilant at restaurants. At the majority of the restaurants I went to the servers were not highly knowledgeable about the menu ingredients and related food allergies. They tried to sound knowledgeable, but I think I was led astray too often. This was true from casual tourist spots like Front Porch Café, to higher-end Cuban fusion restaurants like De Rodriguez. I got most burned at a sushi restaurant and our hotel poolside bar. One restaurant told me a dish that was fried was gluten free. Uh, what? So… read the menu very carefully and even if you are just gluten sensitive, tell them you are celiac to ensure appropriate steps are taken. I think I was exposed to much more gluten cross-contamination than I’m used to getting here in Austin. I tried bringing a gluten-specific digestive enzyme with me to take after some of my suspect meals, but it did not help.
• Bring your own snacks. I brought a 16 oz bag of unsalted almonds and a stack of Kind bars with me, but I should have visited a grocery store after we arrived and bought more snacks plus fresh fruit. Mea culpa. It is hard to find gluten free snacks in South Beach, especially if you are staying at a hotel and want to order from the bar menu while sitting in a chair by the ocean. I took a chance on corn tortilla chips and salsa the first afternoon of the trip, and it was a huge mistake.
• Be careful about your alcohol intake. South Beach is a big party scene, and alcohol causes inflammation. Those with autoimmune have to be very careful about their alcohol intake so as not to trigger flares, even with gluten free alcohol. If restaurant servers do not know about hidden gluten in foods, the same goes for bartenders. I drink alcohol about once/month and stick to red wine. I bypassed the beautiful mixed drinks in Miami, but did have a glass of red wine both nights that should have theoretically been safe. However, I think this did not help my stomach pain since my GI tract is not used to processing alcohol that often, on top of the lower than usual fresh fruit/veggies and high than usual gluten cross-contamination. There are myriad fancy South Beach bars, so just quiz the bartender on the ingredients and stick to (red) wine if s/he doesn’t seem in the know.
• Stay hydrated. Even in February, Miami was very humid. We were walking a lot, up and down the ocean boardwalk and to the Lincoln Road Mall from our hotel on the north end of South Beach. I know I wasn’t drinking nearly enough water and should have been staying much more hydrated given how much sun and outdoor time we were getting. I ordered water at every meal and had a bottle of water in my hotel room, but it wasn’t enough – I should have been consuming probably twice the amount that I did.
This list is a short one, and I’m sure there are more tips that could be added. If you’ve been to Miami and have other tips, feel free to add them to the comments. I know that if I’d followed these five steps, I would have felt a lot better and had less stomach pain during the trip and in the weeks afterward.
Photo: Katie Cleary (r) and Friend in Miami
More about Katie and AutoimmuneMom.com
After a surprise diagnosis of multiple autoimmune conditions four months after delivering her second baby in 2009, Katie Cleary was in a world of confusion trying to manage Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and pleva, a rare autoimmune skin condition. She also discovered she had reactive hypoglycemia and severe gluten sensitivity on her path to finding a new normal. Seeking support and information – while raising two kids and battling all of the confusing autoimmune symptoms, especially fatigue – she founded AutoimmuneMom.com, a website with companion social media pages (Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest).
The AutoimmuneMom community is equal parts story telling and interpreted dietary and medical research posts, with a dash of humor and solidarity thrown in. We love to hear from our autoimmune friends, so feel free to reach out anytime!